European Union - POLSKA УКРАЇНА

EU Approves Trade Deal With Vietnam

The European Union has approved a trade agreement with Vietnam, disproving skeptics who thought the EU’s divorce with Britain and Vietnam human rights concerns would delay the vote.Members of the EU Parliament last week voted 401 to 192 in favor of ratifying the agreement, which would roll back almost all import tariffs between the bloc and Vietnam. The EU is looking for new economic tailwinds amid concerns with other partners: the British exit from the union threatens commerce, while U.S. President Donald Trump has turned his attention from the China trade war to issue more tariffs against the European Union this month. The vote was also welcomed as good news by Vietnam, which worries its economy will be hurt by the U.S.-China trade war and the spread of the new coronavirus.“History shows that isolation does not change a country,”  said Bernd Lange, chair of the EU Parliament trade committee and vice chair of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. “That is why Parliament voted in favor of this trade agreement with Vietnam. With it, we strengthen the role of the EU in Vietnam and the region, ensuring that our voice has more weight than before.”The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement would be Europe’s second in Southeast Asia, after one with Singapore. Its decreased tariffs are expected to increase Vietnamese exports of seafood, textiles, and wood products to the EU, and EU exports of beverages, machinery, and drugs to Vietnam.A cobblestone street is seen in Brussels, the seat of the European Union, which Vietnam is awaiting to finalize a trade agreement. (VOA/Ha Nguyen)This is Europe’s “most ambitious trade agreement with a developing country,” said the German Business Association of Vietnam in an email.The agreement is considered ambitious because it is meant to hold parties to a higher environmental and social standard than merely decreasing tariffs for companies. Vietnam’s one-party state promised to certify that timber isn’t illegally logged before it’s exported, for instance. It also promised to allow labor unions independent of the government.However Emmanuel Maurel, a member of the European Parliament from France, doesn’t believe Vietnam will keep its promise. He also criticized the trade agreement as benefiting not the average citizen but a small fraction of companies that will find it easier to offshore jobs.“There are losers on the Vietnamese side and there are losers on the European side,” he said.Vietnam has not ratified the agreement. Its parliament meets two times a year, so its next chance to vote on the agreement will be in May.Negotiations dragged on for the agreement, which many had expected would have been finalized years ago. Delays included the 2017 inauguration of Trump, who withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, another trade agreement that included Vietnam. Because Vietnam wanted to implement the TPP and the EU agreement at the same time, it postponed the latter deal until more recently.However now Vietnam has welcomed the European Union’s favorable vote this month and looks set to emulate it.“This is a meaningful result for Vietnam and the EU, two comprehensive strategic partners,” Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh, said.

UK PM’s Adviser Quits After Backlash Over Contraception, IQ Comments

An adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who had discussed the benefits of forced contraception quit Monday, saying “media hysteria” about his old online posts meant he had become a distraction for the government.Earlier, Johnson’s spokesman repeatedly refused to comment when asked about Andrew Sabisky, whose appointment drew widespread criticism after the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported statements made in his name online in 2014 and 2016.In addition to posts on contraception, Sabisky also said data showed the U.S. black population had lower IQ than white people, and, in a 2016 interview with digital publication Schools Week, discussed the benefits of genetic selection.Media reported Sabisky was hired following an unusual appeal earlier this year from Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to help bring new ideas to Britain’s government.His resignation is a blow to that effort, which had attracted criticism from those who said Cummings was sidestepping normal government recruitment processes.”The media hysteria about my old stuff online is mad but I wanted to help (the government) not be a distraction,” Sabisky said on Twitter.”Accordingly I’ve decided to resign as a contractor … I signed up to do real work, not be in the middle of a giant character assassination: if I can’t do the work properly there’s no point.”Sabisky, who has referred to himself as a “super forecaster,” said he hoped Johnson’s office hired more people with “good geopolitical forecasting track records” and that the “media learn to stop selective quoting.”Both the opposition Labour Party and at least two of Johnson’s own Conservatives had called for him to be fired.”Andrew Sabisky’s presence in No.10 is a poor reflection on the government and there is no way to defend it. He needs to go. ‘Weirdos’ and ‘misfits’ are all very well, but please can they not gratuitously cause offense,” Conservative lawmaker William Wragg wrote on Twitter before Sabisky resigned.Online postsAn account in Sabisky’s name made the comments about black IQ in a reply to a 2014 blog post written by an American professor discussing education disabilities in the United States.In 2016, replying to a blog post written by Cummings, an account in Sabisky’s name said:”One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty. Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue.”Johnson’s spokesman earlier repeatedly refused to comment on whether Johnson shared Sabisky’s views, saying only that the prime minister’s own views were well known. He would not confirm the nature of Sabisky’s role.

UK Grapples With Severe Floods; Storm Death Toll Rises to 3

Britain issued severe flood warnings Monday, advising of life-threatening danger after Storm Dennis dumped weeks’ worth of rain in some places. A woman was found dead after being swept away by the floodwaters, the storm’s third confirmed victim.To the east, Dennis’ gale-force winds also left nine people injured in Germany as their vehicles crashed into broken trees littering roads and train tracks. Flooding and power outages were reported elsewhere in northern Europe.By Monday evening, Britain’s Environment Agency issued seven severe flood warnings in the central English counties of Herefordshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. Another 200 lower-level flood warnings were also in place, meaning that flooding was expected.Some 480 flood warnings and alerts were issued across England on Monday, the highest number on record, the agency said.A man uses a plank of wood to paddle a kayak on floodwater after the River Wye burst its banks in Ross-on-Wye, western England, Feb. 17, 2020, in the aftermath of Storm Dennis.The storm’s confirmed death toll rose to three as West Mercia Police said a body had been found in the search for a 55-year-old woman who had been missing near Tenbury in Worcestershire since Sunday.A man pulled from the water in the same incident was airlifted to a hospital, where he remains in stable condition, police said.’I’ve never seen anything like it’The weather system brought winds of more than 145 kph (90 mph) and up to 150 millimeters (6 inches) of rain to Britain over the weekend. And the tumult is not over.”We expect disruptive weather into the middle of this week bringing a significant flood risk for the West Midlands, and there are flood warnings in place across much of England,” said Toby Willison, Executive Director of Operations at Britain’s Environment Agency.Forecasters said river levels in parts of northern England had yet to reach their peak. In the northern England city of York, authorities were piling up more than 4,000 sandbags as the River Ouse continued to rise. It’s expected to peak Tuesday.Other residents in Wales and western England were cleaning up Monday after the storm flooded roads, railways, homes and businesses and disrupted travel across Britain. Some told stories of fleeing for their lives.People bail water out of flooded homes after the River Wye burst its banks in Ross-on-Wye, western England, Feb. 17, 2020, in the aftermath of Storm Dennis.Jeanette Cox, 68 and her daughter Rachel woke up to the sound of water in their home in the Welsh village of Nantgarw, near Cardiff, about at 4 a.m. Sunday. Cox said the only object that survived downstairs was her wedding day photograph that she had kept on a windowsill. Her husband Bill died from cancer in 2009.”It was pitch black,” she said. “All you could hear was the water running. I’ve never seen anything like it. I was very frightened.”Climate changeBritain’s environment secretary said climate change was making extreme weather events more common. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government denied it was unprepared for such storms.”We’ll never be able to protect every single household, just because of the nature of climate change and the fact that these weather events are becoming more extreme, but we’ve done everything that we can do with a significant sum of money,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.The fish market is flooded during a storm surge in Hamburg, Germany, Feb. 17, 2020.In Germany, at least nine people were injured in weather-related car accidents as high winds brought trees down onto roads and train tracks.A commuter train with 67 passengers also crashed into a fallen tree in the western German city of Dortmund, but no one was injured. And in the German city of Hamburg, the city’s famous fish market was flooded for the second time this month.Further north, strong winds and heavy rains caused flooding, road closures and electricity outages across the Nordic and Baltic regions and forced the cancellation of several ferries between Denmark and Norway.In Denmark, the southwestern city of Kolding was flooded as gale force winds and heavy rains battered the area. In nearby Horsens, police protectively evacuated residents near Bygholm Lake out of fear that a levee would collapse.In southwestern Norway, more than half a dozen roads and several mountain passes were closed amid heavy snow and high winds.

‘Be Yourself’ Ex-British PM May Advises Women in Politics

“Be yourself” is the advice former British prime minister Theresa May gave to the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai on Monday, explaining how she had risen to the top job despite refusing to conform to masculine traditions in politics.”I did my politics a different way from the men,” she told the mostly female audience of her entrance to parliament in 1997.”There was still a huge emphasis on men drinking together, getting together into groups and some of the women felt they had to join that and I didn’t,” she said.”I felt I wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it so I did it my way, I was myself and hey, I became prime minister,” she said, provoking laughs from the audience.May served as Britain’s second female prime minister, after the late Margaret Thatcher, and home secretary as well as minister for women and equalities — a role that remains necessary in May’s view.She resigned as premier in July 2019 after three years in the post amid mounting pressure over her inability to carry out Brexit, a topic notably absent from her speech in the United Arab Emirates.At the end of September, during her first major public appearance since leaving Downing Street, May announced she would not rush to write her memoirs.That remains the case, said May, despite the encouragement of many people, including former foreign secretary William Hague.”He thought it was very important that people at the center of events write about them, so that historians can look at what it was like for the individuals involved,” she said.”So maybe, maybe one day, but I am not doing it at the moment,” she added.She advised the women in the audience to persevere in the face of failure and highlighted the causes she continues working on, including domestic violence, modern slavery and mental health.   

‘Landmark’ Verdict Expected Tuesday in Turkish Human Rights Case

An Istanbul court is expected Tuesday to deliver a “landmark” verdict on 16 civil society activists on trial for sedition.For one of the defendants, a leading philanthropist and supporter of civil society, the case is drawing international scrutiny seen as pivotal in determining the direction of the country.  “The outcome of this case will show the rest of the world whether respect for human rights has any part to play in the Turkish justice system,” Milena Buyum, Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, said in a statement released Monday.FILE – Osman Kavala, April 29, 2015.Prosecutors accused the 16 defendants of supporting and organizing anti-government protests in 2013 against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president.  The protests were called the Gezi movement after the park in Istanbul where they began. Prosecutors are calling for sentences of up to life in prison without parole.Among the accused is Osman Kavala, one of Turkey’s leading philanthropists and supporters of civil society, who has been jailed for more than two years.”He has been a very key linchpin figure in civil society. That is why he has been targeted, and that’s what the European court also said,” said senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch.  “The European court said in December in its ruling the prolonged arbitrary detention is politically motivated and has a chilling effect on the rest of civil society,” she said.Criticism from international observers The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) called for Kavala’s immediate release and an end to the case; however, the Istanbul court refused to release him, saying the ruling was being appealed.The court had released the other 15 defendants at earlier hearings, but they all now risk being returned to jail.”The prosecutor is asking for an aggravated life sentence based on accusations that pass as evidence in the indictment and with meaningless, incoherent, unreasonable interpretations,” Yigit Aksakoglu, a child development specialist who is on trial with Kavala, said in an interview with Turkish media.FILE – Turkish soldiers stand outside the court in a prison complex where the trial of prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 others started, while people arrive, in Silivri, outside Istanbul, June 24, 2019.Aksakoglu spent seven months in solitary confinement before being released from pre-trial detention.Along with the ECHR, international observers have also sharply criticized the prosecutor’s case, claiming that no concrete evidence has been produced and that prosecutors relied mainly on the testimony of anonymous witnesses.”There is nothing there to support such allegations and charges,” said Sinclair-Webb. “It’s a very example of the misuse of the criminal law, an unfair trial with politically motivated charges.”Controversy increased further at the last hearing in January with the judge’s refusal to allow the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.Sinan Gokcen, the Turkish representative of Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders, claims the case is part of a broader strategy by Ankara.”Their arrests and this unlawful detention period and denial of all international procedural rights has had a huge effect on civil society. It’s direct intimidation,” Gokcen said.Conspiracy vs. popular uprisingBut Erdogan is vigorously defending the prosecution of the 16 defendants, insisting the Gezi protest was a carefully orchestrated nationwide conspiracy against his rule, organized and financed in part by Kavala and his network of supporters.  A few months before Kavala’s prosecution, Erdogan labeled Kavala a public enemy, accusing him of “financing terrorists” and being a representative of “that famous Jew (George Soros), who tries to divide and tear up nations.”FILE – Riot police fire a water cannon on Gezi Park protesters at Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, June 15, 2013.Erdogan did not elaborate on the comments about Soros, who is an international philanthropist.Six years after the Gezi protests, Erdogan continues to portray the unrest as a conspiracy rather than a popular uprising. At its peak, Gezi spread to nearly every major city and town. Most observers say that rather than being a plot, Gezi was a grass-roots movement with no leadership and in reaction to Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism.If Kavala and the 15 other defendants are convicted, Ankara could pay a high price. The EU has sharply criticized the case, criticism that has increased with the ECHR’s condemnation of the trial.Ankara is looking to the EU for financial support to deal with the latest refugee exodus from Syria’s Idlib province. Analysts warn that assistance could be conditional.
“(German Chancellor Angela) Merkel vaguely promised new aid to Turkey for Syrian refugees,” said analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners. “But according to European Union Turkey rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor, if any aid is forthcoming, it will be conditional on the release of people like Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtas (the former leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP).”Other analysts suggest Brussels’ priority is to appease Erdogan, ensuring the Turkish president doesn’t carry out his frequent threat to open the borders, which could potentially unleash a new wave of refugees into Europe.  For Aksakoglu, Tuesday’s verdict is a matter of life or death.”He (the prosecutor) wants me to spend my whole life without any hope of leaving the prison. This is equal to capital punishment in Turkey,” he said.

Suspect in Norway Mosque Attack Charged with Terror

A Norwegian man suspected of killing his stepsister and then storming an Oslo mosque with firearms “with the intention to kill as many Muslims as possible” was formally charged Monday with murder and terror.
Philip Manshaus was overpowered inside the Al-Noor Islamic Center mosque in suburban Oslo in August. He fired six shots but didn’t hit anyone. One person was slightly injured when they jumped on Manshaus inside the mosque and held him until police arrived.
The prosecution says Manshaus, 22, is suspected of killing his 17-year-old stepsister, Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen, by shooting her four times — three in the head and one in the chest — with a hunting rifle at their home in the Oslo suburb of Baerum.
Shortly after that, Manshaus drove to a nearby mosque where three men were preparing for Eid al-Adha celebrations. He wore a helmet with a video camera attached and a bulletproof vest, according to the charge sheet obtained by The Associated Press.
Armed with a hunting rifle and a shotgun, Manshaus fired four shots with the rifle at a glass door before he was overpowered by one of the men in the mosque at the time, Muhammad Rafiq. During the scuffle, Manshaus fired two more shots but no one was hit.
A trial is scheduled to start May 7 in Oslo.
Norwegian media have reported that Manshaus was inspired by shootings in March 2019 in New Zealand, where a gunman targeted two mosques, killing 51 people, and in August 2019 in El Paso, Texas, where an assailant targeted Hispanics and left at least 22 dead.
Norway’s domestic security agency PST said it had a “vague” tip about Manshaus a year before the Aug. 19 shooting, but it was not enough to act on because they had no information about any “concrete plans” of attack.  

Facebook Warns of Risks to Innovation, Freedom of Expression ahead of EU Rules

Facebook warned of threats to innovation and freedom of expression on Monday, ahead of the release of a raft of rules by the European Union this week and in coming months to rein in U.S. tech giants and Chinese companies.The social media giant laid out its concerns in a white paper, and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was expected to reiterate the message to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager and EU industry chief Thierry Breton in Brussels on Monday.Referring to the possibility that the EU may hold internet companies responsible for hate speech and other illegal speech published on their platforms, Facebook said this ignores the nature of the internet.”Such liability would stifle innovation as well as individuals’ freedom of expression,” it said in the white paper.It suggested new frameworks that should be proportionate and necessary.Zuckerberg’s visit came on the heels of visits by Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and Microsoft President Brad Smith to Brussels last month.Vestager and Breton will announce proposals on Wednesday aimed at exploiting the bloc’s treasure trove of industrial data and challenging the dominance of Facebook, Google and Amazon.They will also propose rules to govern the use of artificial intelligence especially in high risk sectors such as healthcare and transport. 

Is The West Dying Or Thriving? US And Europe Clash At Munich Conference

The United States and Europe appear divided over the health of the transatlantic relationship following a key security conference in Germany over the weekend, attended by hundreds of political and military leaders. Eruopeans accused Washington of ‘rejecting the idea of an international community’ – but the U.S. said the alliance is in good shape. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the Munich conference, there is an emerging disagreement between Western allies over what exactly represents the biggest threat to Western democracy